The first Bio Innovate regional scientific conference (25-27 February 2013) ended last week with a focus on next steps and ‘big actions’ to come.
On the last day, participants worked on three different strands:
- Crop productivity improvement and climate change adaptation
- Environmental management technologies
- Innovation incubation and value addition.
The groups pondered bottlenecks in the enabling (or disabling) environment, specific priority actions that Bio-Innovate should undertake and who should be involved in these. Coming together, they drew the skeleton of an action plan for the months to come.
The six big actions that emerged from the group work were:
- Business incubation
- Increased involvement in our meetings of business and policy drivers
- Advocacy e.g. for tax & other incentives to develop environmental technologies; standards that promote environmental innovations
- Linkages and stakeholder engagement
- Influencing harmonization of seed systems, bio pesticides, standards and protocols etc.
- Start up funding mechanisms and brokerage
- Procurement and tax issues
- Communication & awareness raising e.g. fairs, open days
The true keywords of this next phase however are innovation incubation and communication.
Even though capacity in bio-sciences remains a critical gap in Africa and the project contributes to filling this gap, Bio-Innovate is not about research in training. It is about generating innovation. In this sense, the project has to play a central role in leading the incubation of biotechnology innovation following various mechanisms: technology fairs (where scientists and businesses get together), supporting industrial parks, organizing open technology days, getting student research sponsored by the private sector etc.
Another proposal suggested Bio-Innovate make available small grants – or an innovation fund – to encourage ongoing technological innovations. In this process, the questions of intellectual property management and of taxation appear crucial to develop a strong enabling environment. Bio-Innovate has a limited mandate to address that environment but cannot afford to ignore its properties, regulation mechanisms and incentives either.
Dr Allan Liavoga – Deputy Program Manager – reminded everyone in his closing address: what will make or break this project is “communication, communication and communication”. In his own words, communication has been one of the weak points of this program and the program management team knows it. This is why it is one of the six ‘big actions’ of the program, but it is also implied as a key function in other big actions such as involvement in meetings of business and policy drivers, platforms of engagement and funding brokerage.
In particular, lobbying policy makers has been mentioned across the working groups as a critical area of engagement and communication. But communication also entails internal communication, dissemination of findings and – notably – engagement with a range of actors. All working groups emphasized the importance of connecting with various interest groups: businesses of course, but also local communities, policy-makers, youths etc. Bio-Innovate could take the steering role in convening spaces of engagement for these key stakeholders to work together. This would respond to the project’s intent to not follow ‘business as usual’.
This first regional scientific conference received very good reviews from the participants. Although the hard work starts now that the conference is over, the latter has managed to combine the two major objectives of innovation incubation and communication.
Read the three issues of the ‘Daily Tail’ (event newsletter):